Music Writing by Carson Arnold

 


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AFTER THE REHEARSAL (A Scott Rosenberg Interview)

 

To all the ones who think with their hearts. To all the ones who think with their minds. We thank you. But to all the ones who think with their ear...you know who you are. Scott Rosenberg. What a world. Firebomb it all right at you in one long sa-la-boom. Not a champion survives.

 

Rosenberg's the type who grins and says "like your ear?", and with anything he can lay his hands on, proceeds to play all the million reasons of why you should or shouldn't. From there, go nuts, go screaming or break right on through to the other side- all your choice- your ear is his ear. Yeah, you betcha I've thrown all his albums across the room in total despair. Once today, twice yesterday and all last week. I honestly don't care for one of 'em, either. And yep, I love his work. Dig it? Nah, he ain't next door, he's out somewhere else peeling and pruning the kinks of sound while lugging that damn tank of a contrabass clarinet. Shouting at the devil and bounding and gagging god, his 1997 IE is a volcanic pause into the open eye of the large ensemble that rumbles and shakes the bottoms of classical and the avant-garde in a polar-quake, best erupted in the seventeen-minute tone-boiler "hums" (seriously one of the better smolderings of contemporary music in recent years).

 

But don't attempt to whistle this inferno. Rosenberg and company are fine young chaps who've thrown the old out and are praying like mad bells that whatever they're doing now is something, just something, worth fighting for. Solo, an example of where he salivates the piping of the reed instrument into a clash-mimic of body sounds and onslaught-gobble. The lava flows but Rosenberg might of been considered a noise-imitator if it weren't for his eternal-return of Skronktet West which grills into the cornucopia of free-jazz like Paul Bowles, Ornette Coleman and John Zorn's last gasp of breathing. Sa-la-boom/Fu-ja-noom- but is it music?. Maybe; maybe not.

 

Step inside, enter, find out.

 

(This interview was orchestrated by email periodically throughout April and May, 2003)

 

CA: How many people have walked out of your concerts over the years?

 

SR: A solid handful that is too large to count but too small to have a direct impact on how I make my music. First of all, people often only have access to this music if they really seek it out. On the rare occasion that the music gets presented to a new audience, you get to discover how powerful the human mind is at shutting things out. People talk, sleep, zone-out, whatever. That's fine. You shouldn't be anywhere you don't want to be. I think if you're at a concert that you don't like, you leave. God knows I have. It just means that you aren't connecting. There's nothing wrong with that. We don't all have to connect directly. The most exciting person to ever walk out of a show of mine though was Mira Sorvino. And recently in Brussels, we had one person at a concert, and he left about halfway through. That was pretty pathetic.

 

CA: Maybe he was influenced by it so much he had to leave! Though, I dunno about Mira. What kind of stuff were you performing anyway there? Pieces from Solo?

 

SR: No, there were five musicians and we were playing duets and trios.

 

CA: Did Paris like you?

 

SR: Good question. I can't really answer that. But I can say that it was one of our least attended shows, the only show where people talked while we were playing, and we barely sold any cds, unlike all the other shows. Did they like us? I can't say. Playing in the big cities is always like that. People approach the music like they've seen and heard everything - there's so much else going on that it's hard to get people to come out - etc...

 

CA: Oh, I agree. Yes...Jesus, I just gone done listening to Solo... I must say it's one constipated album. It sounds like it's all pretty much improv through the piping of your reed instruments.

 

SR: Not only through the piping. There's some straight-forward playing, but it's essentially all extended, or distorted, or distended techniques. But yes, it's entirely improvised. Yeah, the biological aspect of it is not lost on me. The first solo record I made is called "Meet Me On The Gastral Plane."

 

CA: And so why with an album like this with such intense sound is it important for people to listen to it on an album?

 

SR: Well, is it "important" that they listen? That's a good question. It's there as the statement of another voice. Another point of view, like an opinion piece in a newspaper. I guess it's important that people hear other views and know that there are people out there that think either differently or similarly to how they think. It can either challenge or reinforce their identity. But also, on another level, I'd like to think that it's creative sound and fun to listen to. For me, that kind of music is very visual, and kind of affords the mind's eye some room for flights of fancy. I don't know if my record does that for people - to be totally honest - but that's at least what I'm aspiring to.

 

CA: Lets talk about IE, shall we. It seemed like it had a lot to do with tone and variation, but above all, pitch.

 

SR: As this is a statement, I'm not entirely sure what your question is. The pieces on IE all have a lot of improvisation on them, so the pitch specifics were almost entirely up to the performer (except in the case of "hums", which I'll get to below). I sort of set up scenarios that involved notation and pre-defined elements to varying degrees. But insomuch as the pitch content of the album is concerned, I can't take a ton of credit for it.

 

CA: And a composition like "hums"...it was like each instrument was assigned to one particular note to play out through the entire piece. (I believe there's a question in that!).

 

SR: In "hums", the players are asked to ascend cyclically through a scale. It's an incredibly simple idea, it can just happen to take on a richness in the execution (of course depending on who's performing it also). I've done this piece a number of times with different large ensembles and it always packs a punch. The more players the better it is usually. We did this with 40 people once, and it was incredible.

 

CA: I can imagine, it's like a giant Om I guess. You should try to get an entire town to perform it. Now looking at the score for "hums", it actually reminded me of what Stockhausen would do. An influence?

 

SR: Stockhausen is definitely an influence to me. He's a tremendous force in contemporary music. But the way that he impacts me is more inspirational. I wouldn't say hums was coming out of a Stockhausen influence. There were a lot of people that used text as scores - the whole fluxus movement for example, which has also had an influence on some of my work. But for a piece like hums, it was really just a practical matter. I think it's the easiest way to get the results I wanted, as opposed to Stockhausen's text works Aus den Sieben Tagen, which are like spiritual meditations, and the sound is a biproduct of that.

 

CA: Was it a mad process writing IE, or was it just a matter of getting the perfect ensemble to play your ideas? I mean, I guess I'm wondering what the concept and such of this album was.

 

SR: Partly it came out of a concert I did about a year and a half prior, of completely un-conducted orchestral music. We played "hums" in that concert. Then I wrote a couple of other pieces. The second, untitled piece on the track, which is also called 7X, is written with indeterminate notation and no bar lines, and is conducted temporally (I cue different sections), but there is a structure and I set the pace and flow. We took it really slow. On a new record I have coming out with a creative orchestra from Chicago (recorded march 2001 - to be released this fall on New World Records), we take the same piece, speed it way up, only play part of it, and insert another composition into the middle of it. Why am I saying that? Not sure, but just in general to say that the compositional process was different for all the pieces. The shorter more spastic cartoonish piece was a conducted improvisation - no notation whatsoever. The last piece on the record involved two conductors and indeterminate notation with pretty strict rules for interpretation. So the unifying principle on the record was the varying relationships between improvisation and structure or predetermination. Each piece incorporates improvisation and some element of instruction.

 

CA: Ah yes, and this improvisation, this is pretty much the musician playing his/her part freely within a given space or a block of time.

 

SR: Like I mention above, it varies from piece to piece. Yes, mostly it involved choosing how to interpret indeterminate notation and when to play it in a given time, but there are also totally free sections where the players are open to improvise whatever they want - of course I always reserve the right to silence them. Then of course, they always reserve the right to disobey me. There's nothing I can really do if someone chooses to do that. I am not putting a gun to their head, nor would I want to (metaphorically speaking of course).

 

CA: {Laughing} Though gotta' admit, that would carry very interesting results... Actually that reminds me of fluxus stuff. People who'd riddle bullet-holes in the written scale. What sort of flux-experimentation have you put in your work?

 

SR: To be honest, I haven't done straight out fluxus-like work for a long time. I would say more that my music and work is informed by the spirit of that movement. What does that mean? It means that I not only accept theatricality, accidents, humor, body sounds, personal drama, etc... into my work (for they exist whether you want them there or not) but I embrace them as well. That's not all that fluxus was about, but that's probably the most immediate way that it appears in my work.

 

CA: Flux away! So lets see now...why...Why is it musicians like yourself are gravitated so much to the avant-garde, fluxus what have you, and overall abstraction? Why is it that nobody is composing the beauty that people like Faure and Debussy once produced not so long ago?

 

SR: First off, I wouldn't say "nobody." There are people that are trying to create beautiful music primarily - like John Adams. He creates very pretty music. And note that Adams is the most widely performed living American composer (possibly widely-performed living composer period, I'm not sure). But you're right, in general, that what is considered "serious" music today is not pretty in the way that "serious" music of the end of the 19th century was. This has to do with a lot of things.

 

First off, and obvious maybe to the point of being a cop-out, definitions of beauty change. To make music that sounds like Debussy now is historical, traditional, and inherently anti-contemporary. We don't dress the same way that we did 100 years ago, so why make music the same way? So aesthetic values change.

 

Also, and related, the needs of the culture change. Who listens to art music, how it functions in society, what society needs from art. Those things are radically different now than they used to be. Art used to be a bi-product of wealth, now it is often a biproduct of education or rebellion. The intellegensia or the underclass creates art for itself and comments on society, as opposed to the artisans creating for the bourgeoisie to reinforce the identity and status of the ruling class.

 

And then of course, there's the argument that the world is just a more fucked up place, and artists just reflect that which is around them. Some artists try to offer some respite (like those who are in fact trying to make gorgeous or relaxing or transcendent music - Phil Niblock, LaMonte Young, Lou Harrison), but many are living in this world and are affected by the harshness, the dissonance, the confluence of simultaneities, the bombardment of external stimuli, etc..

 

I know for myself (and ultimately that's all I can speak for), that I make music for what I need in my life. If I need to release or redirect some of the insane energy that is thrown at me all day long, it's probably not going to come out as "pretty". If I need to create a space where I can be safe and harbored, I will create something that I think is beautiful and wrap myself in it. But take hums, for example, as it seems to be the piece of the moment in our discussion. I think of it as one of my "pretty" pieces. It doesn't really have any jagged edges or obnoxious tone distortions, or abusive percussion attacks. But it's filled with tight harmonies and difference tones. It's just that the late 20th century ear was stretched to the point where two notes separated by a minor second or smaller, rubbing against each other for a long time, sounds lovely. Or it CAN sound lovely - depending on the listener. So things have exploded due to the ascendance in importance of the individual listener's personal experience (to paraphrase Cage, "every seat is the best seat in the house" or something similar).

 

Make sense?

 

CA: Well, yeah. John Adams and even Lukas Foss or Elliot Carter for that matter compose rather sensual contemporary music. However, what we've both been discussing is all pretty much urban European/American dried fruit, you know? Are the Inuits or the Balinese cultures mixed up in the wire of aesthetics? No, they're not. They're too busy living a culture that wealth and the bourgeoisie of education could never defeat of turnover. Quite simply, they're not "artisans", they're Alive to the Awake. And to connect the points, this is exactly the "transcending" ambience that the masterminds of the 20th century like Harrison, Cage, and Cowell, all sought after. Also- and you can dwell in this if you wish to- "we don't dress the same way that we did 100 years ago, so why make music the same way?"....Yeah, society changes with politics etc. changing our persona to a certain degree. But hell, we all fall in-and-out of love the same why don't we? We wear different clothes, they wore different clothes, somebody else will wear different clothes, but what music will be played in the future from now? Anyway, I guess the bulk of this whole conversation is best represented in the inside of your IE album: "In all things there is music, and in music there is all things"....But Scott, don't you agree that there's a difference between Noise and Music?

 

SR: Hmm. Not sure where to begin. First off, no, I don't think there's an inherent difference between music and noise. I really do believe that it's the frame of reference or the listener's perspective that converts music to noise and vice versa. A Mozart symphony played through a shitty digital system into my phone, played by a synthesizer, while I'm on hold to the dentist's office and have the stereo playing in my room, is noise. A busy street corner piped into the concert hall through high end mics and sixteen surround-sound speakers is music. I feel like that's a bygone conclusion at this point. It's about what we decide to LISTEN to and HOW.

 

The point you make about the commonality of the human experience (we all fall in love, etc...) is really right on. But look how different the expressions of that have been throughout the ages. There will always be, at root, the translation and expression of the human experience at the center of all human creativity. To say that is like saying air is air and water is water. But of course that means as many different things as there are people. And that keeps changing - in terms of what's acceptable, what we can hear, what technology we have at our disposal, what the boundaries of our culture are (how long a piece of music should be, where it occurs, who performs it, etc...). Cultural relativity taken to an individual level, essentially.

 

As for your comment regarding Adams v. World Folk/functionalist music v. Cage and the transcendentalist (for lack of a better word): Music of course serves many functions. I think it's a fallacy to think that the "dried fruit" you refer to doesn't serve a function on the level that say Ghanain village percussion music does. It's just a VERY different function, and much harder to parse out. I can't say whether or not John Adams is alive and awake. He is alive within his reality. For me, it's not relevant to judge that. It's more relevant to assess whether or not I connect to his music, and how it relates to my aesthetic/creative/spiritual work.

 

As for my understanding of music, on the highest level what I seek to accomplish (speaking just for me and my work as a musician) is to inspire creative revolution. But there is also work for all artists to act essentially as the psychotherapists for society on the whole. In other words, what the therapist can do for the individual (assist in the exploration of the psyche, the past, the future, the hopes, fears, memories and desires, and cultivate a direct and healthy relationship and process of understanding and expression of those things), the artist can and must do for society. And this is a very culturally specific thing (as is therapy, of course).

 

Also, in reference to the transcendental qualities of music ­ music has the power to unhinge the mind and allow it to roam free. This is very powerful and has been and will continue to be explored infinitely. Functionally, it's like medicine for the spirit, to paraphrase Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, LaMonte Young, Anthony Braxton, etc It can act as vibrational balm on both a very concrete and very abstract level (from dance to trance, let's say). And this goes on in every culture ­ first, third or other worldly.

 

CA: How 'bout we let our readers figure it all out? But yes, I agree, but then again I don't...Now speaking of Braxton, what was the work you did with him? Similar to your Skronktet West album?

 

SR: Not sure which work you are referring to, but the duet album we did involves some compositions of his, some of mine, and some free improvisation. In terms of greater work, yes in the sense that the Skronktet West is dedicated to combining improvisation and composition - an idea and ethos that Braxton has modeled and inspired in me. But no in the sense that the Braxton duet record doesn't sound anything like the Skronktet record.

 

CA: Time to end. But before we do, give everybody one word that describes the sound of your next project.

 

SR: Skronky.

 

CA: We all await...

 

 

Go now! Find more about Scott Rosenberg at: http://www.barelyauditable.com/rosenbergindex.html

 

--Carson Arnold - May 17, 2003

copyright 2003 Carson Arnold


Other Interviews ~

RUSS TOLMAN SHOOTS SOME GLORY HOLES

MATTHEW YOUNG REVISITED

RAINBOW SPLASH (An Interview with Essra Mohawk)

MIDNIGHT ANGEL (An Interview With Joshua)

Calling Dudley Laufman (An Interview)

Sunday At One-Thirty ~ An Interview with Peter Siegel

Monday High Noon - An Interview with Dredd Foole

 

H(ear) Reviews and Essays

H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at poetry@sover.net

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